West Side Church Converts Sanctuary Into Community Center: ‘A Safe Haven For Youth Seven Days A Week’

Reprinted with permission from Pascal Sabino, Block Club Chicago.

NORTH LAWNDALE — A West Side church has transformed its sanctuary into a community center to be used for more than just Sunday service.

The renovations at Harmony Community Church, 1908 S. Millard Ave., replaced the sanctuary’s pews with chairs and installed new flooring to create a multi-purpose space for Harmony’s youth programs.

The church has long been a pillar in North Lawndale with programs like its food pantry, which serves more than 300 families each week. But in recent years, the congregation has increased its efforts to make Harmony Community Church “a safe haven for youth seven days a week,” Pastor James Brooks said.

Youth programming became even more of a priority for the church community after an 18-year-old member of the congregation, Keyon Boyd, was shot and killed in 2016.

“That really startled us. Rattled us,” Brooks said. “We responded by being attentive to the young people in here to keep them safe, healthy and educated.”

The church organized reading groups and tutoring programs for young people as a way to honor Boyd, Brooks said. They also have fine art programs, which includes music and dance. But they had space limitations since the main room of the church was designed for Sunday service with pews nailed into the ground.

Architectural firm Eastlake Studio offered pro-bono services, redesigning the church and coordinating donations of flooring materials, improved lighting and furniture.

Eastlake Studio is also helping improve the church’s currently unusable basement kitchen, which will allow the food pantry to offer warm meals.

“It’s about giving back to the community when we have the ability to do that,” said Tom Zurowski, of Eastlake Studio.

Now that construction on the sanctuary is complete, the church will have more capacity for youth programs in a more beautiful space, Brooks said. While schools are closed and students are doing virtual classes, the church can also host socially distanced learning pods for students who need in-person connections and support while parents are at work, Brooks said.

“Small groups of children can go in there and get internet access, which is very helpful,” Brooks said.

The improvements have been completed in time for the Harmony Community Church annual gala. This year’s virtual gala will raise money for the community youth programs operating out of the upgraded sanctuary, including the tutoring program, their intensive summer reading clinic, fine arts programs and food pantry.

Register online to attend, donate or buy raffle tickets.

The church will also be able to host wedding receptions, community meetings, business conferences and other events for the neighborhood when gatherings are safe again.

“The people in North Lawndale deserve beautiful spaces. It changes the psychology. It changes the morale of people when they have a beautiful space,” Brooks said.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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